Willie McGee: The Humble Hero: This is the definitive publication on the life and career of Willie McGee. If you haven’t read it yet, you should read it right now. It was published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a series of articles entitled “Portraits of St. Louis.” It attempts to explain the unique appeal that Willie McGee has enjoyed in St. Louis, but it accomplishes much more: it introduces us to a man who probably shouldn’t exist, someone who, through all his success, has remained unbelievably humble and generous. It was written by Vahe Gregorian and originally appeared on August 16, 1998. It is reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Willie McGee Goes to Bat for Students: A great article from the San Francisco Chronicle on the work of the Willie McGee Foundation. This article was written by Jason B. Johnson and originally appeared on January 29, 2005. It is reprinted with permission of the San Francisco Chronicle.
I first remember really paying attention to baseball in the fall of 1982. I was in complete awe of the play of Cardinals outfielder Willie McGee. I was 12 years old, and from that day until today, Willie McGee has been my all time favorite player. I have lived in Minnesota nearly all my life and I am a huge Twins fan. I was torn apart on the last out of the 1987 World Series, my Twins had won their first championship, but I had to see Willie make the final out. I never got to see Willie play in person, but my favorite items in my Willie McGee collection are the autographed baseball cards that I had sent to Busch Stadium and Willie signed and sent back to me!! I’m 35 years old now and I still love thinking about the Cardinals of the 80’s, the stolen bases, the station to station baseball, the bunts and the defensive greats on those teams!! That is baseball the way it should be!! I learned a lot about Willie McGee reading other peoples letters today, now I just want to meet the man more than ever!!
– Jason Schuder
I was pretty young through most of his career but I do remember playing little league and trying trying to look like him when I would lead off and try to mimic his run and his slide. He was part of what I consider the best years of baseball, before the strike and steroids. I consider myself lucky to have seen him play, but even more so to have been born and raised in the St. Louis Area. This is the best sports town EVER!! I never walk into that stadium or see baby blue without remembering those days. Without a doubt the best memories I have are being with my Dad at Cardinal games. Tonight, at a month in half old I am taking my son to his first game. I know at this day and age players like McGee are few and far between, but I hope the new stadium and the cardinal colors mean at least half to him as Busch and baby blue mean to me.
– Jay C. Linton
St. Louis, MO
I grew up in New York, and was an avid Mets fan from the days of my childhood through the 80’s and 90’s. As such, the Cardinals were not one of my favorite teams, being that they were a rival of the Mets in the NL East. However, I was a true fan of the game, and appreciated and respected great players and great persons, regardless of whom they played for. And there was no one in baseball whom I admired and respected more than Willie McGee.
The man played every pitch as if it were the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the World Series. If you gave him a fraction of an inch, he took it. He cut off balls in the gap that no one else could have, he took an extra base where no one else would have and, as awkward as he might have looked sometimes swinging that bat, he could hit with the best of them. He epitomized the old fashioned work ethic in sports that is unfortunately so lacking today. As the old saying goes, he came to play every day.
What I admired most about Willie, though, was his humility and class as a human being. I saw many interviews with him, and read many things about him, and in my opinion, there was not a nicer or more genuine person in all of baseball. And simply by watching him play, and how he acted on the field and in the dugout, one could easily sense that genuineness, and that this was a very special man.
Baseball was a better game during Willie’s career, simply because # 51 put on that uniform, went out there every day and gave it his best.
I am no longer a youngster, but Willie McGee will always be one of my all time heroes.
– Michael S. Cohenson
Willie McGee was my favorite ballplayer pretty much from the two home-run, homer-saving series game against the Brewers. I don’t need to recount his on-field accomplishments to any Cards fan. Come to think of it, none of us need to be reminded that he was grace and class personified on and off the field. I was devastated when the Cardinals traded him to the A’s, and his return to St. Louis brought me back to baseball. It may sound strange or sappy, but it was hard for me to even think about baseball during those years. And as long as I can remember, I have lived and breathed baseball and lived and died with the Redbirds. I felt reborn and my glee and optimism extended to every facet of life. You can come home again. Wrongs can be made right. Having the city savor his every at bat and express the same admiration made me even more proud to be a St. Louisan. I wrote this because, when former NFL linebacker Sam Mills passed away recently, he was described by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson thusly: “…he was the kind of person you want your kids to grow up to be.” I thought of Willie when I read that.
– Daniel Ritchey
I started watching Cardinals baseball in 1980 when I was 8 years old. As you know, two years later we as fans were blessed with both an extremely gifted athlete as well as a wonderful human being in Willie McGee. He immediately became my favorite ballplayer. The amazing thing about Willie was that he never made a spectacle of himself….never argued with umpires, never showed anyone up…..NOTHING to disrespect the game that he loved. I went through grade school, middle school, and high school watching every game I could on television to see Willie and the Cardinals, and I NEVER missed a game listening to Jack Buck on the radio. After I graduated high school I joined the Army. While in basic training, my best friend sent me a copy of Sports Illustrated with Willie McGee on the cover in an Oakland Athletics uniform. I could not for the life of me understand how they could trade my hero!!! Anyway, I went on to serve in Desert Shield and fight in Desert Storm, serving 5 1/2 years in the army before getting out. A few years after leaving the service, the Cardinals re-signed Willie to be a platoon player for them and I watched him finish his career out as a Cardinal. The final game played in Busch Stadium during the season that was Willie’s last, I sat on our couch and sobbed aloud as I watched Willie run out to right field in his awkward style after pinch hitting shortly before, only so the home crowd could applaud him one last time. I grew up with Willie McGee. He will always be a part of some of the brightest memories that I will always hold on to, from when I was 8 years old until after I had fought for the country which we call home. He touched many of us with his humble smile and his love for the game.
– Daniel Starks
Growing up in a baseball-loving family in St. Louis, I was, of course, baptized in the faith of Cardinal Nation at an early age. My fondest childhood memories include the sights of Busch Stadium, the sound of Jack Buck’s voice, and the beautiful birds-on-bat jerseys.
I was eleven years old in 1982 and enjoyed every moment of that glorious season. In retrospect, with so many great Cardinal players to choose from it seems odd that Willie McGee became the player I admired more than all. I was impressed with his solid play and effort, but his humility really made me love him.
When the Cardinals traded Willie in 1989, I was attending college far from my Missouri roots. I saw the quick note on SportsCenter and could not believe it. I immediately called home and the horrible news was confirmed, my favorite Cardinal was no longer a Cardinal. I literally cried. I was nearly a grown man, but cried like a little boy the day Willie was sent to Oakland.
I still followed his career, often wearing one of my McGee 51 jerseys, and was absolutely thrilled (as was the rest of Cardinal Nation) when Willie returned to St. Louis in 1996. A fully grown man at this point, tears once again found their way to my eyes.
Now that I live in Texas, I am only able to get to Busch Stadium or a Cardinal game over in Houston a few times a year. Amid a sea of McGwire, Pujols, and Rolen jerseys in the seats, I can easily be spotted in my McGee jersey. Inevitably, at every game (even in Houston), a Cardinal fan shyly walks over to me to shake my hand, compliment me on my jersey, and share a few Willie memories.
That is the reverence Willie McGee has in Cardinal Nation. Complete strangers are brought together not by the love of a game or one team, but by sincere adoration of a single, humble and beloved man.
– Kris Wickerham
San Antonio, TX
When I was first exposed to baseball in 1985 (sadly enough when in my 20’s), Willie McGee was the first player I got excited about. It was fun to watch him: run, jump, hit. He had that magical swing that made it look like he could never hit the ball, but boy could he!
I’m now a diehard baseball and Cardinals fan. We have now had season tickets for several years. Many players have been fun to watch, and yes exciting, but still none anymore than Willie McGee. His humble approach and truly sincere smile makes you want to like him and see him play again. What a great role model for other athletes.
I was disappointed that Willie’s number has not been retired by the Cardinals. What a truly deserving honor to such a great asset to our city and its fans. He was an excellent and dedicated ball player who expected nothing more from the Cardinals than to allow him to play.
While I have purchased many autographed items, my wish in my lifetime is to be able to meet Willie McGee and thank him for the great memories!
– Jerrie Weith
My wife loves him more than me!
– Dave Parker
I was privileged enough to be the one to pick up Mr. McGee at the airport for the Bob Gibson Classic in August 2004. I really didn’t get the chance to express to him how much of a fan I was. I was just so in awe of being able to pick him up. He was very tired when he showed up, but still was very polite…it was so awesome to be able to drive him to his hotel and be able to talk like we had been friends forever. I felt like I could sit with him and talk for hours. I saw him play many times (sitting in the stands and yelling, “Go now!”). I cant say enough how awesome it was to be able to pick Mr. McGee up at the airport, even though I didn’t get an autograph (we were told by the Bob Gibson Classic that we couldn’t ask for one, and I really didn’t feel like it was the appropriate setting for it) this memory will be something that I tell my grandchildren about. If Mr. McGee ever comes back to Omaha, or if he wants to ever come visit me and talk more about life and all the crazy experiences (like that would ever happen), I would be more than happy to pick him up from the airport again. I have volunteered for many community things, and by far this was one of the best volunteer opportunities I have ever experienced.
– Michael G. Byington
SSgt, United States Air Force
My name is John Hart and I am a huge Willie McGee fan. I’m from St.Louis, now living in Phoenix and I remember when he was picked up by the Cardinals. In 1982, I went to 42 home games during the regular season and to the playoffs against the Braves then to games 2 and 7 of the World Series against the Brewers. The Cards’ had lots of great players on that team but I was an outfielder at the time and he was my favorite player. I followed his career when he left and was very happy when he was able to finish his career in St. Louis. When I saw he was going to be down in Florida for spring training it really made me happy. I hope he gets a chance to coach at the major league level some time. He still looks good in the red and white too.
– John Hart
This evening (Jan 3, 2004), my wife, older son and I were at a local driving range in the SF Bay Area hitting golf balls. As it was 39 degrees, there weren’t many people out at 7:30 pm for this activity. As we were hitting, a man walked by us to setup to hit his bucket. As he walked by, I knew it was Willie McGee. I kept watching him as he was crushing his shots. When we were done, I couldn’t help but ask him if he was indeed Willie McGee. In his true classy way, he acknowledged that he was Willie McGee. He immediately stopped what he was doing to shake all of our hands. I asked what he was up to and we chatted briefly about his coaching efforts. I asked what he would recommend for young players to gain strength as we had just returned from a baseball camp in Arizona with our younger son. He went on to spend at least 10 minutes with us explaining what he felt would help any young player including demonstrations of each exercise. Mind you, this was in 39 degree weather on a Saturday evening. We graciously apologized for interrupting his golf time and he responded by saying: “no problem, it was nice meeting all of you”. He will always be a class act whether on the baseball field or anything else he chooses to do in life. What our kids need more than anything is someone like Willie that will take the time to share his experiences without feeling as if he is being bothered
– Scott Mangini and family
My two cousins and I attended a game at Busch Stadium years ago with my uncle and some others in my family. After the game, we headed to the parking garage and took a wrong turn, ending up in the players’ parking area. My cousin dropped a piece of paper, which ended up near the tire of one of the vehicles. The attendant said, “Get away from there! That’s Willie McGee’s truck!” My cousin bent down to get the piece of paper all smudged with gunk.
Happily, he said, “Willie McGee’s car grease!” and off we went. Some 15 years later, he still has that piece of paper. What other player could inspire this kind of loyalty?
– Brian Henry
I am the no. 1 fan of Willie McGee. I have over 800 items that have his name and/or picture on them. He is the most underrated player of all time. He never bragged about himself and he is a very humble man. I met Mr. McGee at a card show and had the opportunity to talk to him in private. He was great with the people. One little boy said, “Mr. Willie, how does it feel to be a big league ballplayer?” Willie replied, “It’s the greatest feeling in the world to put on that uniform everyday.” I believe that is just the way he felt. I wish we had more people in this world like Willie McGee.
– George Kirk
(McGee) could fly. I think he was faster than (Mickey) Mantle. I thought he (Mantle) was the fastest in my time. (Willie) Mays was fast too. Mickey Rivers, he was fast. Dave Collins, Rickey Henderson, they were fast. Willie McGee was the fastest.
– Whitey Herzog
I like to brag about the teams I played with in St. Louis, because of the fire they played with. Willie could have played with those teams. I would have loved to have him out there with (Curt) Flood and (Lou) Brock.
– Bob Gibson
Last week we were in Tahoe, skiing. If you think Willie look funny hitting, trust me, you got to see him get up on some skis.
– Vince Coleman
I’d like to think he made us better players. In the long run, it made us better people. I can hope that in the not-too-distant future, Willie is again in a Cardinals uniform (as a coach) helping the Cardinals win a World Series.
– John Morris
In 1996 through ’99, he was the most dangerous player off the bench in the league.
– Tony LaRussa
Personally, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart, it will be an honor for the rest of my life to be known in baseball as the player traded for Willie McGee.
– Bob Sykes
His love affair with this city is something special. Most of the guys who played on the team at the time he came up, in the 1980s, had a close relationship with the city. But with his humility, everyone has to love Willie.
– Ozzie Smith